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March 30, 2006 - Image 10

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10A - The Michigan Daily - Thursday, March 30, 2006

ARTS

MUSIC FROM
BEYOND

Looks like someone's not all that anymore.

'Snakes' can't escape,
pre-release buzz

By Anthony Baber
Daily Arts Writer

Music
Column

Audiophile

MIKE HULSEBUS/Daily
TOP: An Interior diagram of the Buddha Machine. ABOVE: The device's
Innocent exterior.

Regard: an unassuming colored plastic box
about the size of two cassette tapes stacked
on top of each other. There's a little switch
on one side, jacks for plugging in adapters or head-
phones and what looks like a volume dial on top. In
the middle of the box is a circular pattern of holes not
unlike a speaker.
So what the hell does this little plastic box do?
Does it release little puffs of freesia-
scented powder into the air? Does it
keep roaches from scurrying across
your kitchen counter? Is it the gray-
market answer to the iPod?
Sort of, actually - but it's about a
million times cooler and more imagi-
native than a supercharged MP3 player
could ever be. The device is called the A
Buddha Machine, and if you give it a
chance, it can totally change the way
you listen to music. ALEXA
Yes, it plays music, but nothing so
outmoded as tunes or songs or even JON

is where I picked up my machine, but you can also find
them online. The device will set you back about $23.
It might sound like a novelty, and in one sense of
the word, that's what the Buddha Machine is - a
,.new gadget for the aurally inclined, something that's
so alien to our world of multimillion-dollar beats and
career-spanning boxed sets as to be at once momen-
tarily intriguing and easily dismissed. But here's
where the device sheds its status as a nov-
elty and enters the realm of cultural text.
Inside its hard-plastic shell, resting beatifi-
cally amid wires and connectors, is a tiny
statue of the portly, smiling deity. As an
avowed atheist and devotee of camp, how
could I not love a cheap piece of plastic
imbued with such spiritual significance?
For those of us who follow release dates
like some follow draft picks, for whom the
occupation of listener initiates one into a
NDRA world in which a maze of sub-subgenres,
side projects, b-sides, live DVDs and the
ES like must be navigated and assessed, the
experience of relinquishing control to the Buddha
Machine's randomly selected, muted ululations can be
liberating from the connotations of popular music.
At its best, the machine allows the listener to
become a participant, drawing meaning out of the
endless stream of random, dark pulses and birdlike
flutters it amplifies.
Of course, the Buddha Machine's loops aren't com-
pletely random. They range from loosely rhythmic
pulses to sonic impacts that bear a resemblance to the
slow, methodical tempo of crashing waves. One of
the more spirited themes sounds like it might've been

made by a piano, but there's too much fuzz and fog sur-
rounding the core tone to figure it out.
As a classically trained music student (tuba -
eight years and counting), the device's mechanized
randomness represents to me a sort of forbidden
hedonism, a respite from the formal discipline and
strictly imposed guidelines that are built into inter-
preting the compositions of others.
The Buddha Machine even goes a step further,
removing the opportunity for manipulation by an artist
entirely. There's no author to these sounds - the only
ownership can be claimed by Fm3 (wwwfm3.com cn),
the Chinese company that makes the machine and the
meaning of whose website's text I'm blissfully ignorant.
While I'll champion the significance of the three-
minute pop song just as heartily as any other music
lover, there's something to be said for hookless,
riffless, wordless, unbranded sound. Free from the
connotations of major and minor, key signature and
time signature, you're free to meditate, zone out; the
sounds are fuel for the listener's imagination. You
can actually hear yourself think.
Even to those of you who already have an ear for
the avant-garde or just like really weird shit, the idea of
turning your ears over to the Buddha Machine might
seem pointless. But if you want to know what it's like
to hear music that doesn't end until the batteries run
out, that doesn't tell you what it's "about," that is the
germ, not the product, of inspiration, ditch that other
plastic musicmaking box and open your ears.
- Find the Buddha Machine as useful enlightening
as charming as Jones? Share the love and spiritual
enlightenment with her at almajo@umich.edu.

If the filmmaking debacle that was
"Freddy Vs. Jason" taught us any-
thing, it's that the novelty of a bad title
- one that unapologetically sums up
an entire movie - can sometimes tap
into our cultural fascination with the
truly and irredeemably horrible.
"Snakes on a Plane" can only be
interpreted as a movie about snakes
on a plane, and that's exactly what's
caught the nation's attention.
The film tells the story of a flight
over the Pacific gone terribly wrong.
David R. Ellis ("Final Destination
2") is at the helm of the film, which
has buzz louder than a Chicago bar-
bershop. Thanks to overactive blogs,
comically manufactured T-shirts
and the premature honor of Wired
magazine's "Worst Movie of 2006,"
fanatics are already camping out in
front of theaters.
The. kicker: The film doesn't even
open until around August.
Although the movie was basical-
ly finished, filmmakers brought it
back in for a reshoot in an attempt
to bump it up from its PG-13 rating
to an R. Viewers can expect graphic
scenes of reptilian attacks and sex in
the bathroom abruptly interrupted
by a python (and I don't mean in his
pants, ladies).
The film also carries the appeal
of boasting a sense of humor mixed
with a thirst for action. With Samuel
L. Jackson ("The Man") in a leading
role, we can expect multiple scenes
of loud profanity and maybe, if we're
lucky, a snake getting shot in the face.

And with the casting of lesser-known
comic Kenan Thompson (TV's "Satur-
day Night Live"), we can also expect a
sensational reaction to a snake crawl-
ing up his arm that inevitably ends up
overdrawn and over-the-top.
Insiders have made numerous
attempts to circulate more media cov-
erage around the film, and nurture the
idea that it's not as asinine a waste
of time as critics predict. Josh Fried-
man, a film industry screenwriter and
journalist who was offered a chance
to work on the script, started all the
talk with an entry about the film on
his popular blog www.hucksblog.
blogspot.com.
To date, the biggest media fren-
zy over the film began with the
announcement of Jackson being cast
in his perennial role as a tough FBI
agent. Jackson was enraged when
rumors spread of a name change to
"Pacific Air 121."
In an interview with Collider, Jack-
son said, "We're totally changing that
back. That's the only reason I took the
job: I read the title ... You either want
to see it, or you don't."
And apparently many Internet
fans do. Chris Rohan of Bethesda,
Md., created a hit R-rated audio
trailer that playfully promotes the
movie and title.
"It's a genius title," Rohan told the
Hollywood Reporter. "It's so stupid
(that) it's great. It invites satire, but
it's something you just love. It's some-
thing I can't explain. You either get it
or you don't."
Jackson gets it. In the same inter-
view with Collider, the actor enthused,
" 'Snakes on a Plane,' man!"

0

01
vE

tracks; while its sounds are mysteriously basic and its
mass-produced, plastic parts almost toylike, the music
that issues from the device is nothing like anything
you've heard before. The machine plays nine tape loops
of drones, pulses, wobbly glissandi and sonic fog. The
sounds are difficult, if not impossible, to attribute to the
instruments that made them; this is due in no small part
to the almost-too-cheap-to-work speaker. I was intro-
duced to the singular gadget by Ian Fulcher, an LSA
lecturer and a core member of the experimental music
group Drafted by Minotaurs, upon whom I now bestow
infinite cool points. Schoolkids Records on State Street

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